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April 2014 Brief: Volume 21, Number 12

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A Time for Choosing


by John Hendrickson



This year will mark the 50th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s landmark speech, “A Time for Choosing,” which he delivered on behalf of then Senator and Republican presidential nominee Barry M. Goldwater.[1] In 1964 Goldwater was running against President Lyndon B. Johnson, and during the campaign he outlined a policy agenda that called for a return to constitutional limited government. Reagan’s speech, which echoed Goldwater’s defense of constitutional principles against New Deal-style liberalism, is still relevant in today’s political battle of ideas. Reagan understood that the growth of the welfare state, high levels of taxation, and massive increases in government spending are detrimental to any society.


The conservative crusade against the federal leviathan fought by Goldwater, Reagan, and others continues today, but the stakes are even higher than when Reagan delivered his historic speech. In the 21st century, the federal government has escalated in size because of the policies initiated by both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. President Obama especially has radically changed the course of American government in a socialist direction.


Since 2009 the federal government has “added $6.8 trillion to the debt and spent $17.6 trillion.”[2] Spending by the federal government is out of control as is demonstrated by the massive deficits and the rising $17.5 trillion national debt. As Michael Tanner, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, describes:


When President Obama took office, debt held by the public equaled 39 percent of GDP. Today it exceeds 73 percent. That’s its largest share of the economy since 1950, when we were still paying down World War II debt. If one includes intergovernmental debt (such as the bonds in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds), our national debt exceeds 103 percent of GDP, bigger than our entire economy. Of course, the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare have continued to grow as well. Throw those in and, even using optimistic assumptions, our real debt runs at $83.9 trillion, roughly five times larger than our economy.[3]


In addition, taxes under President Obama have already increased by $1.7 trillion and he is proposing “another $1.8 trillion on top of that.”[4] This is in addition to the massive increase in regulations imposed by the federal government and the intrusion into health care with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.


President Obama’s recent budget request to Congress proposes spending nearly $4 trillion next year with continued deficits and higher levels of debt projected into the future. The budget request would “add $8.3 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years.”[5]


The argument to justify the continued massive increase in spending is “investment” in job creation, but the economic record demonstrates that the current policies have failed to bring about a strong recovery from the Great Recession. Investor’s Business Daily noted in an editorial that “the real unemployment rate — counting those who have stopped looking for work and those who are underemployed — is still in double digits.”[6] In addition, “the number of working Americans has increased by just under five million, while the number of food stamp recipients is up by almost 15 million.”[7] The war on poverty, which President Johnson declared in 1964, has also failed. As Michael Tanner notes, “over the last 50 years the government spent more than $16 trillion to fight poverty.”[8] Tanner argues correctly that “if we want to win the war on poverty, we should end those government policies — high taxes and regulatory excess — that inhibit growth and job creation.”[9] The fact remains that under current policies wages remain stagnate and the number of Americans receiving governmental assistance is at record levels.


Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), who serves as the ranking Republican member of the Budget Committee, recently described the agenda of the Democrat Party:


energy restrictions that destroy jobs and drive up costs; maze-like administrative rules that only the largest companies can navigate; nationalized health care that shrinks the work force; Federal Reserve stimulus, which helps big firms at the expense of small savers; taxes and regulation that close plants and send work overseas; massive spending that makes Washington a boomtown while impoverishing the nation; bureaucratic interference in schools and homes; intrusive government; a surging welfare state; endless deficits; and an increasingly open-borders immigration plan. Each of these policies directly harms working Americans. Each of these policies serves the political interests of Democrats while entailing lower pay, fewer hours, and higher unemployment for dedicated American workers.[10]


Ronald Reagan argued that at the heart of the 1964 election was the issue of “whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”[11] This is the issue that confronts America today.



[1] Ronald Reagan, “A Time for Choosing,” in Speaking My Mind: Selected Speeches, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1989, p. 22.
[2] United States Senate Committee on the Budget-Republicans, “The President’s FY 2015 Budget: Growing the Government and Shrinking the Middle Class,” Budget Background, March 4, 2014, <> accessed on March 13, 2014.
[3] Michael D. Tanner, “Obama’s ‘Age of Austerity’ Lie,” Cato Institute, February 25, 2014, <> accessed on March 14, 2014.
[4] United States Senate Committee on the Budget-Republicans.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Editorial, “U.S. economy remains anemic despite ‘upward trend’,” Investor’s Business Daily, March 7, 2014, <> accessed on March 10, 2014.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Michael D. Tanner, “War on Poverty at 50 — Despite Trillions Spent, Poverty Won,” Cato Institute, January 8, 2014, <> accessed on March 17, 2014.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Senator Jeff Sessions, “Becoming the Party of Work,” United States Senate Committee on the Budget-Republicans, March 13, 2014, <> accessed on March 17, 2014.
[11] Reagan, p. 26.


John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at



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